Monday, July 30, 2012

Disney Resorts for Larger Families.


You can stretch out at Disney's gorgeous Bay Lake Tower
but you'll pay a lot for it. Here are some more economical
options for larger families.

In the real world, a family of five isn't a "large" family, but by Disney World standards, it is.  It's true that some Disney resort rooms sleep five people, but the cold hard fact is that they don't all do it comfortably.  This means that if you're a larger family, you may find yourself tempted to stay off site. After all, you can get a two-bedroom condo or even a gorgeous rental home for a reasonable price.  But if you're like me, you love the benefits of staying on site:  Transportation, extra magic hours, package delivery services, the dining plan, and being in the "Disney bubble."  Frankly, it's going to take a lot of get this family of five to stay off site.

So what works for larger families?  Let's look based on the different levels of resorts:



The Value Resorts:

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of the value resorts, where you'll get the same service and benefits as someone staying in a deluxe resort for a fraction of the price.  Unfortunately, standard value rooms only hold four guests (excluding the first child under age three, who does not count towards your occupancy), so booking a single value resort room is out of the question for larger families.  


Water splash area at
Disney's Art of Animation Resort.

A great solution is to book two connecting value rooms. Combined these will average around $200-300 a night, depending on the time of year.  The advantage here is not only space, but  that you'll have a place where the adults can relax at night after the kids go to bed, always a plus. Make sure you request connecting rooms when you book.  These are never guaranteed, but since the values have a high percentage of rooms that connect, your request will most likely be met.

Disney's Pop Century Resort
has kid-friendly icons.


Another solution for larger families is to stay at a family value suite at All Star Music or at the recently opened Art of Animation resort. These suites sleep six and have two bathrooms, a queen-sized bed in the "master" bedroom, two televisions, a fold-out couch, a table that converts into a bed, a refrigerator, and microwave.  The only downside is the price which can top $400 a night during peak season.  Another caveat: Due to their popularity, it can be harder to find discounted value suites.  If getting a discount is important to you, book a suite but plan on switching to two value rooms (which almost always have a discount available except during peak season) later if a discount doesn't materialize.

Moderates:

Port Orleans-Riverside, known affectionately by Disney fans as POR, is the only moderate resort room that sleeps five people in its standard rooms. There's a catch however:  The Murphy-style fold out beds are small and better suited for children under ten years of age. 


Port Orleans-Riverside

An alternative to a single room is to stay in the cabins at Fort Wilderness. These cabins sleep six and include a bedroom, living area with Murphy bed, a full kitchen, and one bath.  You'll also get a large deck and a place to grill outside. For more information on the Ft. Wilderness cabins, please see this article.

Deluxe Resorts:

Most Disney deluxe resorts sleep five, excluding Animal Kingdom Lodge and the Wilderness Lodge, which both sleep four in a standard room.  At approximately 400 square feet, these rooms are roomier, with two queen-sized beds and a fold-out couch, but it's important not to lose sight of one thing: Everyone will still be sleeping in the same room. So if privacy (to say nothing of having an extra bathroom) is important to you, the extra 100 or so square feet you gain over a moderate resort room really isn't going to make that big of a difference in your comfort level. Consider two connecting value or moderate rooms, a value suite or, if money isn't an issue, a Disney Vacation Club villa instead.


Disney's Contemporary Resort features two
queen-size beds and a daybed.


Disney Vacation Club  Villas:

One solution for larger families is to book at a DVC resort. You can do this through Disney or by renting points through a private owner.  Generally, you'll find that renting points from a DVC owner is cheaper, but there are steep cancellation penalties (you risk forfeiting everything) and the entire transaction requires a lot of trust since you're dealing with an individual owner rather than directly with Disney. You can read more about renting points here


Disney's Boardwalk Inn and Villas.

DVC resorts are basically one, two and three-bedroom condos with full kitchens and living/dining areas on Disney property. They're often attached to deluxe resorts, although some, such as Saratoga Springs, are solely DVC properties.  The theming is excellent and the amenities are some of the best on property, but they're also some of the most expensive rooms available at Walt Disney World.

If you plan on booking one of these villas through Disney, you should be aware that not all resorts will be discounted when promotions are announced, so be flexible if getting a discount is important to you. I've found that Saratoga Springs, Old Key West, and Animal Kingdom Lodge have the most rooms available under discounted promotions. Finally, it's fairly rare that three-bedroom units (also known as grand villas) are discounted. Sometimes it's easier and more economical to get two two-bedroom units.

As you can see, there are plenty of options available on property that will accommodate larger families. Personally, I prefer the option of two value rooms. It gives you plenty of space and you won't pay more than you would for one moderate room.  Just make sure before you make a decision you look at all the options and price out different scenarios, keeping in mind that not all discounts are created equally. In the end, a little extra time and paperwork can save you a lot of money and put you and your family into the most comfortable and appropriate resort for you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Go Away Green and No See-um Gray at Disney

Pay no attention to that door.
There are times when Disney doesn't want you to notice things.

What kind of things, you ask?

Well, doors, buildings or anything that might ruin the show.

There are lots of ways that Disney does this, but one of the more common ways is to paint the item in question. Disney has developed two distinct colors they use to hide things in plain sight: Go Away Green and No Seeum Gray.

One of the more famous uses of the paint is on the door of the exclusive Club 33 restaurant in New Orleans Square at Disneyland. (Thanks to Daveland for the photo.)

On a recent trip, I was explaining how Disney did this to a friend while we were sitting in the Tomorrowland Terrace charging our phones. I realized that the buildings next to us had a perfect example of the paint.


At the end of Main Street is the Plaza Restaurant. The last building before Tomorrowland is painted a dark green and holds the sunroom area of the Plaza. Do you see the building jutting out behind it?



This is a view of the side of the building that houses part of the kitchen and ancillary services for the popular eatery. The intention of the color is to make you pass by without noticing it.

Disney also takes advantage of sight lines when painting show buildings. The following photo is taken from the Germany Pavilion looking across the lagoon towards Canada. Notice the curved building that is painted sky blue? That is the Soarin' show building.


Disney Imagineers can also hide a building using its architecture. The Hollywood Tower of Terror in Disney's Hollywood Studios is 199 feet tall and can be seen from the Future World as you look across the lagoon towards the Morocco Pavilion. In order to make the building blend in, the Imagineers made the backside of the tower take on more of a Moroccan flair. It blends in with the buildings in Epcot very well!

http://www.studioscentral.com/column/why-its-there/color-tower-terror


Have you noticed any other areas where they use the different paints or camouflage the building or its surroundings?? (And, no, it is not a trick question.)

Monday, July 16, 2012

Up Close look at California Adventure's Buena Vista Street

With all the hype surrounding the new Disney California Adventure expansion over at Disneyland Resort, I thought everyone who plans to head out to the West Coast for some Disney adventures would love to hear some tips and tricks for exploring one of the new expanded areas.  The bloggersphere seems to be of  Carsland tips for hitting the rides there (get there early, FastPass the racers, use single rider lines, etc) but what about the new stunning opening street of Disney California Adventure?

One of the coolest parts of Buena Vista Street is the new Carthay Circle restaurant which I strongly advise getting a reservation for.  The menu looks fabulous and this is, after all, a replica of the theater in which Disney's first full length animated feature, Snow White, premiered.  The fountain area is also a great spot for the afternoon parade and photos.

Even though I didn't get to ride the Red Car Trolley because of wait times, this is my favorite part of the expansion.  Why, you ask? Because it takes a group of Newsies out to Buena Vista Street where they do a fabulous show multiple times a day! I love the music, love the dancing, and, well, our Newsies were chock full of cuties! ;) Check the times guide for showings and be prepared to be singing "Suitcase and a Dream" all day! 

The most obvious, not to be missed, area is the new Storytellers statue.  This makes my heart flutter and I shelled out $195 for the Limited Edition replica while in the park.  Buena Vista Street just confirms what I have thought since my first visit to Disneyland Resort... California Adventure is and has everything I have always wanted out of Hollywood Studios at WDW. 

The statue was super crowded when I was there and I hardly had time to get good shots of it, but I think that may have been a "grand opening" thing and you will find more reasonable waits for some face time and photopass pics here in the future. 

Most importantly, don't overlook anything on Buena Vista Street.  There is Disney magic around every corner.  Look for shops named for Oswald, Mortimer, and even Walt's father (and Walt's middle name) Elias.  Check out the balconies and Imagineering wonders- you have just set foot in Walt's California afterall! Commit some time here not just for the ride on the trolley or to see the newsboys but for shopping, people watching, and enjoying the ambiance. 

The moment you set foot on Buena Vista Street, you are stepping back in history.  Enjoy every minute of it. 

Want more picturing from Disneyland Resort and my recent visit to Disneyland Park and the California Adventure expansion? Check out my photoblog Picturing Disney and visit us on Facebook to see even more pictures of Buena Vista Street

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Walt Disney World Free Dining for Fall 2012 is Here!


Book a vacation, get an adorable tote!

It's here, everyone's favorite discount: Free dining.  Here's the basic information on this promotion plus our FREE Disney gift card offer:

Dates:

To get free dining, you must check-in during one of these selected dates. As long as you check-in on these dates, you will qualify for your entire stay (up to 14 days):

September 30 - October 4

October 19 - November 1

November 9 - November 15

November 23 - November 29

December 10 - December 13

If your dates do not fall into the dates noted above, your dates are blacked out for free dining and you will not receive the discount.  Remember, not all room types will be available under this offer. This promotion may require you to move up a level in your resort in order to receive it. Wait times this morning will be several hours, so unless you have a very specific type of room in mind, wait until the early afternoon to call.


 

Excluded Resorts:

Currently, this discount is not valid at the Ft. Wilderness campsites, 3-bedroom villas, or the Little Mermaid standard view rooms at Disney's Art of Animation resort.  Keep in mind that during previous promotions, resorts and room types have been added.

Book by:

This offer must be booked by September 29, 2012.

For this promotion only, our FREE Disney gift card offers are as follows:

  • For vacations starting at $1200 and up, a free monogrammed tote bag.
  • For vacations starting at $1800 to $2999, a tote plus a $25 Disney gift card.
  • For vacations starting at $3000 to $4999, a tote plus a $50 Disney gift card.
  • For vacations starting at $5000 and up, a tote plus a $75 Disney gift card.
For the purposes of this gift card offer, vacation totals do not include airfare and taxes.  Gift cards are per room. 

I'm an authorized Disney vacation travel planner with Pixie Vacations. Please contact me for a no-obligation quote at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com or call 919-889-5281. Thanks!

If you'd like more information on how to book free dining, please my article on Mice Chat.




 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Epcot's Le Cellier: Worth the Hype?


Le Cellier, located in the Canadian pavilion of Epcot's World Showcase, is easily the most popular restaurant on Disney World property, but is it worth the hype? In a word, no. Perhaps a caveat is in order here:  It depends on when you go.  While Le Cellier is a delicious bargain for lunch, it feels like letdown at dinner, where the quality of the food doesn't match the prices.

Earlier this year, Disney made some interesting changes to Le Cellier, which goes from being a standard table-service restaurant at lunch to a signature restaurant at  dinner.  If you're on the dining plan, that means you'll pay one table-service credit for lunch and two for dinner. Plenty of restaurants have a less expensive menus for lunch, but the change from a standard restaurant to signature dining is more than just the price. When you eat at a Disney signature restaurant, you expect a more high-end experience comparable to one you'd find at a better restaurant in a larger city, so I was curious to see how this translated with Le Cellier. Did dinner live up to the change in name?

Atmosphere:

Le Cellier, which means "the cellar" in French, is designed to look like a wine cellar in an old French Canadian town. After all the hype you've probably heard about this restaurant, the entrance at the back of the Canadian pavilion is a bit of a letdown, especially compared to the elaborate, themed settings you'll find in most Disney restaurants. Inside, the restaurant is small and cozy, with low ceilings, dark lighting and touches of red and dark wood and while the pictures may scream "Canadian Mounty Lunch Room" it's actually a very pretty restaurant.  The only drawback is that the tables are close together and you may find yourself wishing for a little bit of elbow room. 



You may miss some of the usual touches that you see at Disney signature restaurants. Little things like tablecloths don't make an appearance, but that's a minor thing and I'll give them a pass on that one. Does it "feel" like a signature restaurant at dinner? No, but it's still unique enough that it works for a date night or a special occasion meal.

Le Cellier is more quiet than a lot of Disney restaurants, but I wouldn't hesitate to bring younger children here.  The atmosphere is informal and your overall dining experience is relatively quick. This isn't to say you'll be rushed out:  Feel free to enjoy a more leisurely meal. But if you're visiting with children who have difficulty staying still for more than an hour, you'll do fine here.

Food:

You'll start your meal with a delicious bread basket full of pretzel, sourdough, and multi-grain rolls served with salted butter. Disney uses a European-style butter in most of its restaurants; this has a higher fat content, so you'll notice a more pronounced taste of cream than you do in regular butter. It's addictive and spread over the warm rolls, you'll be in carb-heaven.  In fact, I could have been happy with a basket of these rolls and nothing more!



Since I was reviewing this for the site, I wanted to start with the quintessential Le Cellier appetizer: The Canadian Cheddar Cheese Soup. Made with Moosehead beer and bacon, this soup is thick, creamy, and a little bland. I was disappointed in the flavor, which had very little actual cheddar taste and was dominated by the bacon and beer. Don't get me wrong: I love bacon. But this soup has the word "cheddar" in its name so I was hoping for . . . a little cheese, perhaps?



Despite the rather boring soup, which in fairness my table mates loved, Le Cellier shines when it comes to appetizers, in particular its seasonal offerings such as the Heirloom Tomato salad with macerated red Onions, Minus "8" Vinegar, and smoky blue cheese. This healthy combo of sweet, vine ripe tomatoes contrasted with tangy blue cheese and a touch of balsamic vinegar is big enough to share and a bargain at only $12.



Other standouts include seared scallops and the "deconstructed" steakhouse Caesar salad. The scallops are always on the menu but the presentation changes seasonally. This time they were offered with an apple slaw, but the winter months bring heartier adaptations.  Always perfectly cooked, the portion is just right to wet your appetite for the star of the show: Your steak.


Le  Cellier's Mushroom Filet.

Sadly, the steaks are where our meal fell apart for us. Everyone at our table ordered either the filet with the mushroom risotto or the ribeye with a maple and pink peppercorn butter and herb-parmesan potato wedges.  Now, it should be mentioned that both steaks were delicious. They were evenly seasoned with a nice salt and pepper rub that didn't mask the flavor of the meat. The sides were also good, particularly the creamy, earthy mushroom risotto that could convince even the most ardent mushroom hater to give it a try.


The thicker of the two ribeyes, pefectly cooked and delicious.

The problem was with the quality of the meat. If you're going to call yourself a steakhouse and sell a $43 steak, you should be selling good quality meat.  Sure, Le Cellier is in the middle of a theme park. But Disney has never "dumbed down" their food just because of the location and some Disney restaurants are the best of their kind in Central Florida. Not so with Le Cellier.  Two of us ordered the ribeye and as I mentioned, it tasted fantastic. The problem was that both steaks were thin, which makes it difficult to cook, resulting in some chewy, overdone areas. The parts that were good were very good, but you shouldn't have to describe a steak that way.  One steak in particular was under under an inch thick, little more than a thin strip of beef with a thin line in the center that could be called "medium rare."  If I'd wanted a schnitzel, I would have gone to Biergarten over in the German pavilion! 

The poor cut and quality of this steak was something that the kitchen should have noticed and not sent out to a customer.  To give you something to compare it to, the quality of the meat wasn't as good as you would find at an Outback Steakhouse, which is sort of a middle-of-the road steakhouse chain that you might be familiar with. In fact, I would actually put the quality of the steaks at Le Cellier somewhere around a Texas Roadhouse or a Logan's, both side-of the-highway, inexpensive steakhouse chains where you can get a decent meal for around $16.

Service:

Like most Disney restaurants, Le Cellier has excellent service, but it was a far cry from the usual signature dining experience you'd normally find at restaurants like Citricos and Yachtsman, both of which are known for their exemplary wait staff with decades of experience.  The problem possibly lies in the fact that Le Cellier moves from being a regular restaurant at lunch to a signature restaurant at dinner. Something is lost in the translation, that little extra touch that separates the two types of restaurants. It's not that the service wasn't good. It was. It was that it was lacking that extra care you expect at better restaurants.  It was the little things that hurt, like the fact that they simply forgot we were there, causing us to wait nearly an hour to be seated, or the fact that when were were finally given our table, it was a table for four. Once seated, it was obvious that we were not going to be able to eat at such a small table, so we asked for a larger table. Our server, who was great, did find us one. But at these prices, we shouldn't have had to ask.

Getting a Reservation:


Le Cellier is famously impossible to get a into, which only adds to the allure of the place. If you're trying to make a lunch reservation, you'll want to make it the morning that reservations open up at the 180-day mark. Even waiting until that afternoon will make it difficult to get a reservation, so be up at 6:00 a.m. eastern and make your reservation online. If you have difficulty with the system, call 407-WDW-DINE when it opens up at 7:00 a.m. eastern.  Like most signature dining, reservations for dinner at Le Cellier are easier to get due to the price, but you'll want to book that as early as possible as well just in case.

I probably spend way too much time thinking about Disney food and during my meal, I had a real epiphany about eating on property.  Quite often, my best meals are at one table-service credit restaurants, not because the food is better than at the signature restaurants, but because I never leave feeling like I paid too much. My meal at Le Cellier was good, it just wasn't worth the money. If I had paid less for this meal, it would have been hands down one of the best bargains on property. But paying what I did? Not even close. And maybe not everyone cares about that on vacation, but I think for most of us, we don't want to feel like we've been overcharged.

Part of the problem with Le Cellier is that I want it to live up to the hype. If it was just another World Showcase restaurant, I'd let it slide a little, but when your expectations are set so high, and when you're paying signature dining prices, it's hard not to be disappointed by a meal that's just so-so.  Ultimately, if you're looking for a great steak, there are far better available on Disney property: Yachtsman Steakhouse, Artist Point, and California Grill, just to name a few. Next time I'll try Le Cellier for lunch, but when I want a steak for dinner on Disney property, you'll find me at Yachtsman Steakhouse.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Staying Hydrated at the Magic Kingdom

Water is your friend!

Keeping cool and hydrated while visiting Central Florida is important anytime of the year, but especially during the hot and crowded summer months. While soda abounds at the Magic Kingdom, it isn't always the smartest choice when the weather turns blistering. So, grab your sunglasses, your hat and your sunscreen as we look at some simply ways to stay hydrated.

Ask for Free Water
Any quick service stand or snack cart that sells fountain soda will be able to give you a free cup of water. All you have to do is ask! They will also wet down bandannas and small hand towels to help keep you cool. If the heat gets overwhelming, don't hesitate to stop a cast member. They can direct you to the First Aid station near the Crystal Palace.

Fruit, Fruit and More Fruit!






Even thought the Nutella Waffle with Fruit might seem a little much on a hot day, it still offers a generous helping of blueberries, bananas and strawberries. You can find bananas, oranges and apples all over the Magic Kingdom at various snack locations but two spots standout for their variety.

Fantasyland
  • Cheshire Cafe - fresh fruit, lemonade, slushies and Smart Water.
Liberty Square
  • Liberty Square Market - apple slices, oranges,  bananas, grapes, green apples, mixed fruit, pineapple spear, watermelon and carrot/celery sticks.

Water Misters and Sunscreen...Oh, My!


Everyone has seen those carts parked everywhere selling the spray bottles with the fans on top. You know, the ones that spray the cooling mist of water?

Well, I hate to burst anyone's bubble, but the misting fans cause more sunburns than you would think! The water droplets magnify the intensity of the sun and the mist keeps the sunscreen from being as effective. We always recommend that you take a hat of some sort...and that you reapply sunscreen throughout the day.
As a reminder, it takes about 30 minutes for sunscreen to be effective. Applying it and then going into direct sunlight is better than no sunscreen, but it is still not as effective.


Citrus Swirls
Don't forget to enjoy the reborn Citrus Swirl at the Sunshine Tree Terrace in Adventureland. This creamy and refreshing orange and vanilla treat is a perfect snack on a really hot day. Or course, you are in danger of getting brain freeze as you try to finish the treat before it melts.

How do you stay cool and refreshed at the magic Kingdom?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Quick Bites: Art of Animation's Buffalo-Style Turkey Sandwich.



Last week I was fortunate to try the Buffalo Turkey Sandwich with house-made chips at Art of Animation's Landscape of Flavors, the resort's quick-service location. Designed like a mall food court with various counters serving everything from the usual chicken tenders and burgers to vegetarian tandoori options, Landscape of Flavors is a step above what you'll find at most resort quick-service locations with healthy, innovative options. It's bound to be a favorite among guests and sure to bring visitors from the Pop Century over the bridge for a nice meal.

The Buffalo-style Turkey Sandwich comes with real slices of turkey, blue cheese, arugula, and a very spicy buffalo sauce-mayonnaise.  It's served on two slices of nutty, multigrain bread.  I loved this bread and while kids probably won't care for it, adults will appreciate the departure from the usual "white bread colored to look like whole grain" that seems to be the norm in most sandwich places.  Nice effort here to deliver something different, both with the bread and the sandwich itself.  This is a delicious sandwich with fresh ingredients, a real departure from a bland, quick-service burger and fries. The only downside is that it's so big you may need to use a fork to eat it.

I'm not a fan of potato chips in the least, but I ate every one of these fresh, still-warm chips and would have happily eaten more.  I hope that Landscape of  Flavors continues to offer them, because they're a delightful change from the usual bagged chips. Next time I might ask for something to dip them in so I can enjoy them even more.

Art of Animation itself is a resort where Disney's Imagineers have outdone themselves. Bravo to them for creating an experience that delivers in terms of both value and enjoyment. If my first visit to Landscape of Flavors is any indication, that trend continues right down to the quick-service offerings at the resort.